Getting Ideas for your Personal Statement

Thursday, September 15, 2005 | comments

The PS is an important document because it is your main opportunity during the university application process to shine as an individual in your own words. However, finding those words is not always easy. You may not know exactly what you want to do. You may be in two (or three!) minds about courses. You may feel that your achievements or interests are not relevant to your course choice. Or you may feel that you do not know what to select from a large number of possible topics.

Here are some things you can do to get your writing started. It is important that you get something down on paper, however rough, so that you have some material to work on and revise when you turn your mind to the statement proper and start gearing your thoughts to the audience.

1. Patch Writing
At the start, when you are getting ideas, don't try to write the whole statement in one go. It is usually better to write random bits or 'patches' of your statement and then find ways to 'stitch' them together. Your most effective sentences, and the ones most true to your motivations, may only come after you have done lots of initial free writing. Use notes, bullet points, abbreviations and images rather than full sentences to get your ideas down on paper. When you have filled a page, leave it for a day or two. When you return to your work, look for ways of connecting your ideas. Look for parallels, repeated words, similarities in content. These may be the beginnings of paragraphs in your statement.

2. Be Interviewed
Ask someone you know and trust to interview you and make notes on your answers. Get them to ask you about specific things - your interests, experiences, favourite subjects, extended essay topic, favourite authors - rather than ask direct questions like 'What would you like to study at university?' Then ask your interviewer to provide feedback on you. What do they consider to be your enthusiasms, your strengths, your weaknesses?

3. Writing Prompts
If you find free and patch writing difficult, you may find writing from prompts more effective. Again, avoid trying to answer the big questions ('I want to study ___________ because _____________') if you know that you are not clear about your choices at this stage.

You might find out more about yourself and your motivations by responding to prompts which require you to state something factual and then back it up with an explanation:

* I am good at ____________ because ____________
* My most powerful learning experience was ____________________ because ________________
* My extended essay on ________________ has taught me _______________
* Everyone should learn to _______________ because __________________
* The good thing about studying ________________ is that it shows you ________________
* Studying _____________ is relevant because _______________________
* An issue in the world now that I feel strongly about is ________________ because ____________________
* My favourite subject is ________________ and two things I like about it are ___________and _________________

4. Research
Reading university prospectuses and browsing web sites may spark good words and ideas for the PS. Read course descriptions closely - you may see something that immediately makes you think 'That is what I like doing!' or 'That connects with what I am doing now!' Or you might find accounts given by current or former students, often used in propsectuses and on websites, will give you useful insights into university life and study. Doing this kind of research is particularly important if you are planning to read a subject such as law or political science which is not taught at IB level.
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